A quality Gold Coast locals' beach, known for its fishing pier and walking path.
- Plenty of sports on the beach.
- Families have areas all to themselves.
- It's still a small beach.
- Limited shopping options.
Deerfield Beach, at the northern edge of Broward County, is a top-tier beach for South Florida locals along the so-called Gold Coast.
Just south of the ritzy Boca Raton and north of small-town Hillsboro Beach, Deerfield’s diminutive oceanfront brings a unique flavor to the shore. There are a mere 17 blocks of waterfront property within the city limits on the barrier island, but they’re well-appointed. Most of the city of 77,000 residents live on the mainland, where the city got its start.
Deerfield Beach was supposedly named for the large amount of deer found wandering the lands along the Hillsboro River in those days. The land was merely swamps and saw palmetto, but a few stalwart settlers put down roots along the Hillsboro River after 1877. Over the years, tomato harvesting brought more people to the area.
Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad came through in 1896 on its way to Miami. By 1910 there was a burgeoning business center for vegetable shipping centered on modern-day Dixie Highway and Hillsboro Boulevard.
The town incorporated in 1925, with about 1,300 residents. The Atlantic Ocean wasn’t the main draw until after World War II, when businesses and hotels popped up to serve returning veterans.
These days the city boasts a large pier that divides the beach between partiers and families. The beach is a hidden gem that crams a lot into a little space, offering tons of special events and a beachgoing vibe that’s a bit different from the usual commercialized tourist strip in the area.
The easiest airport to fly into is Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), about 25 miles away from Deerfield Beach. Most airlines fly to this airport.
If you’re coming from the east coast of Florida, you can take the Tri-Rail, linking Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Once on the ground, there are buses, shuttles, taxis, rental cars and more all waiting outside the airport.
Interstate 95 is the main north-south drag on the mainland, with Dixie Highway (State Road 811) and South Federal Highway (U.S. Highway 1) running the same direction. There’s only one bridge to the beach, running east and west via Hillsboro Boulevard. You also could make it to Deerfield Beach’s waterfront by taking State Road A1A, which is called Ocean Drive in the city.
Since Deerfield Beach is fairly small along the beach, you can walk or bike ride around. The beach’s downtown-y area is right on A1A. If you do need a ride, Uber and Lyft are available.
The city runs two shuttle routes in conjunction with Broward County Transit, the local public transportation agency. There are several bus routes on the mainland, connected by a single route that serves the beach.
There is also a free ride service for Deerfield Beach called BeachRidesUSA. Drivers work for tips only.
There’s a fair number of available parking spots here, considering it’s a small and popular beach. The city uses a pay-by-plate parking system, meaning that if you’ll need to look for a pay station and not a single meter. Annual parking passes are for residents only.
Notable also is that rates are about $1 more per hour from 4 p.m. on Friday until midnight on Sunday. Be mindful, because many of the lots around these parts are for resorts and hotels.
There’s a large parking garage on Ocean Drive between NE First and Second streets, with shops on the ground level. If you want one of the lots closer to the sand, you’re going to have to get here early.
Ocean Drive takes a little kink heading north, where there’s a small lot before reaching NE Fourth Court.
Most of the parking you’re going to want is along Ocean Way, a beachfront strip east of Ocean Drive, but south of NE First Street. There are lots of metered street spots running all the way from NE 20th Terrace to SE Fourth Street, but you’ll practically have to be here by daybreak to get them on busy day.
Large, metered parking lots are right next to the fire station on Ocean Way, on either side of SE First Street.
If you want a free spot, there is one trick you can try: Right before driving over the bridge on Hillsboro, there’s a shopping plaza called “The Cove” on the south side (the righthand side) of the street. Many locals choose to park there because it’s free. The only caveat is that you then have to walk a few blocks across the bridge.
It may be a small waterfront, but what a waterfront!
The centerpiece is the International Fishing Pier, a prime fishing spot with rod rental that splits the beach in half. The pier charges a small fee to walk out to the end, and a little more to go fishing.
But Deerfield Beach is unique in that the atmospheres change depending on which side of the pier you're on.
Facing the ocean, the right side of the pier (the southern half) is the family side and the left side (the northern half) is the more rowdy hangout. These distinctions aren't set in stone, it’s just what tends to happen.
The northern side of the pier is where you’ll find free beach volleyball courts and beachside bars and restaurants. When school lets out and summer is in full swing, this part of the beach is packed with teenagers. Most of the sporty stuff happen here, including a healthy surfing and skimboarding culture.
The southern end is more family friendly, and boasts a well-designed walking path chock-full of amenities, running right along the the sand. You’ll find locals rollerblading, walking and jogging down the concrete path. Outdoor showers, restrooms and pavilions line the path. If the sun gets too hot, there’s also a grassy area along the sand with palm trees to hang out under.
A short walk from the pier is the restaurant and shopping area along Ocean Drive, the main drag. It’s easy to get around here because all of the action is within the few blocks of the beach.
And remember, dogs and alcohol are not allowed at any section of the beach. A full list of the city’s guidelines is available here.
WHERE TO STAY
A well-priced beachside hotel in the middle of the beach scene. The rooms are equipped with the usual amenities, plus a pool and grills.
An art-boutique hotel right on the beach. The suites feature sleek, modern decor, and the lobby has a wine bar and a fine-dining eatery.
This motel is a block off the beach, but the amenities make up for it. The Georgian-style building has hotel rooms, efficiencies and 1-bedroom apartments, with access to a pool.
Every Independence Day, the locals and tourists intermingle along the coast for this celebration. Vendors, live music and tons of people make the day special, with the prerequisite fireworks coming after dark.
In mid-January, the beach comes alive to celebrate the civil rights legend’s birthday. It’s four days, featuring a carnival, live entertainment, a church choir competition and a parade.
This huge art fest brings more than 100 artists from all over the U.S. to show work and compete for awards. Live music accompanies food and drink vendors..
This one-night winter event takes place every December. The city brings the South Pole to south Florida with ice skating, live music, kids activities and Santa himself.
THINGS TO DO
This park west of I-95 has everything you could ever want: water-skiing, bike trails, a summertime water park on weekends (Splash Adventure) and more. The lake makes for great fishing, and the marina offers boat rentals.
Take your budding lepidopterists to this butterfly park in Tradewinds Park just off the turnpike. There are more than 20,000 live butterflies, making this the largest butterfly park in the world. There are botanical gardens for the bugs, plus birds and an insect museum.
Play Gilligan’s Island with a trip to this boat-access-only island in the middle of Deerfield Beach, across from The Cove. A free boat shuttle leaves every hour, so transportation isn't an issue. Once you’re there, explore the wildlife by way of trail, kayak or paddleboard around the island, or try your hand at geocaching.
WATERSPORTS AND FITNESS
Locals use this store for all of their rental needs. They offer paddleboards, surfboards, skimboards and lessons for anyone who wants one. The full-moon paddle is one of the coolest tours they have, which includes paddling in a group into the moonlit Intracoastal Waterway.
Stop by for an intense group workout just blocks from the beach. Each day the workout changes. The first workout is free.
PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK
Famous for its appearance on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, a visit here is a given.Ask for their homemade “Whale Juice” sauce to accompany your meal, and try their spin on Oysters Rockefeller.
You can't miss this bar and restaurant overlooking the pier, featuring great food and a mean cocktail. At night they've got dancing at the main bar, coupled with hot tunes.
This is the best beachside brunch, but they serve a killer dinner and lunch, too, with live music to go along with it. This joint is right on the beach, north of the pier.
This tiki-style bar makes for a perfect people-watching spot right next to the beach. The happy hour frozen drinks are well-priced.
Along with all of the restaurants, most of the stores on the island are centered here. Along with Island Watersports, chains like Wings Beachwear and Billabong sell women’s and men’s fashion and the Beachcomber offers trinkets and souvenirs.
Cross the bridge and you’ll immediately hit this outdoor shopping area. Diverse restaurants, fancy clothing stores and antique shops will keep you busy.
TIPS FROM TOWNIES
If you’re on the north side of the pier and you’re looking for refreshment, Oceans 234 has a great beach drink: a mix of a pina colada and a strawberry daiquiri.
If you forgot a volleyball to use at the courts, don't sweat it. Ask the lifeguard and he will give you one in exchange for your ID.